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Taking stock of tree planting

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Forty-two years ago, on January 21 1975, the first National Tree Planting Day was officially launched by Malawi’s first president the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The day has since mutated over the years. Towards 2000, it was moved to the month of December. It then changed to national tree planting week, month and then season. All these changes were made to catch up with moisture availability in the soil and ensure seedlings survive once planted. CHARLES MKOKA looks back at some of the greener efforts made so far.

Malawian individuals, companies, government and civil society groups have been planting trees all along the last four decades. This year, the season commenced on December 15 2016 under the theme “Malawi forests – rooted in the past and branching into the future”.

The theme is a reminder that several years ago Malawi had vast forests endowed with rare and endemic plant species. In fact, some of these species were only endemic to the country alone such as the Mulanje cedar. Regrettably, most of these bountiful forests and rare species are now either gone or endangered, says in part a statement issued by Patrick Matanda, Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining.

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Through the Department of Forestry, a national target of planting 60 million trees before the rainy season ends has been set. It is therefore expected that all Malawians should participate fully in undertaking this noble task to restore the degraded environment.

Over the years, Malawi has experienced high rate of deforestation and forest degradation which are mainly man-made in nature. The United Nations (UN), Food and Agriculture Organisation 2010 and forest classification system, suggest deforestation rate is estimated to be one percent per year. While the 1993 Biomass Assessment Report puts the deforestation rate at 2.8 percent.

Some causative factors of deforestation include agricultural expansion, illegal charcoal and firewood production, deliberate and uncontrolled forest fires, expanding settlements including encroachment on protected forest areas. All these factors have endangered trees, forests and biodiversity that naturally balance people’s livelihoods.

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Speaking at Kalambo Primary School in Area 25, Lilongwe, President Peter Mutharika said he had learnt that the survival rate of trees planted is around 60 percent while 40 percent die.

He raised the standards high to a billion trees but said the survival rate should hit a record high of 100 percent of all those planted.

Noble laureate billion tree campaign

Mutharika’s ambitious plan to plant a billion trees with a 100 percent survival rate is similar to the “Plant for the planet a billion trees”. This was an idea inspired by Professor Wangari Maathi – founder of the Kenya Green Belt Movement ,which had planted more than 30 million trees in 12 African countries since 1977.

Maathi was behind the UN billion tree campaign which was launched in 2006 at the UN Environment Programme offices at Gigiri in Nairobi, Kenya. She becomes a patron of the campaign, inspiring thousands of people across the world to plant for the benefit of their communities.

Her ingenious illustration of the interconnectedness among culture, politics, economics and environment has been a groundbreaking approach to conservation.

“It is the people who must save the environment. It is the people who must make their leaders change. We cannot be intimidated, so we must stand up for what we believe in,” Maathi said.

“I want to make this appeal to demonstrate our commitment by planting a tree in our respective countries, by 2007 we will reach a billion,” she told local and international journalists covering UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2006 in Kenya.

Tree survival rate versus regeneration

Analysts estimate enormous efforts and monetary value has been made in tree planting exercises over the years. As such, in recent times tree planting has come under spotlight.

Ronald Mpaso, a Blantyre-based media practitioner, says we may plant as many trees as we can as a country. However, if we do not root out the causes of people cutting down trees, our efforts will remain futile.

Mpaso says almost every Malawian relies on trees to cook food.

“We have been planting trees from the days of Kamuzu but the problem of deforestation continues to worsen. What it means is that we are getting it wrong somewhere. We are asking people to stop using charcoal and firewood but the alternative sources of energy for cooking are out of reach. Deforestation will continue as long as alternative sources of energy are not accessible and affordable,” Mpaso says.

Malawi Environment Endowment Trust (Meet) Chair of the Board of Trustees Daulos Mauambeta said during his institution’s Annual General Meeting in Lilongwe mid-January that it is time as a country we concentrated on the management of indigenous shrubs to allow the process of natural regeneration to take its course.

According to Mauambeta, there is a lot of investment and resources being ploughed in tree planting projects across the country. However, there are concerns emerging on the survival rate of trees planted.

A living example of the fruits of natural regeneration is the Sendwe Community Forest that is located on the western side of Lilongwe near Santhe Trading Centre on the border with Kasungu. This is an example of natural regeneration in an area where natural trees existed before. To date, local communities have put in place rules to guide the management of the reserve.

“Sendwe Hill was completely bare with only shrubs. Communities took care of the shrubs and there is now a mature forest there. We must learn from these people and how they did it,” Mauambeta says.

In a related development, under the 2014 – 2015 grants scheme, Meet supported the Uzumara Local Forest Management Board (LFMB) located in Senior Chief Mwankhunikira in Mphompha Extension Planning Area in Rumphi. The reserve is under co-management agreement between the Department of Forestry and Uzumara LFMB.

Uzumara Community Pine and Eucalyptus Plantation establishment project aims to establish community plantations on bare land outside the reserve. The idea is to promote good land use practices to reduce soil erosion and promote income-generation for the local people in the area.

On trees survival rate, Director of Environment and Green Services at Lilongwe City Council Allan Kwanjana says they are encouraged by the successful tree planting survival rate in 2014 and 2015.

Kwanjana says the survival rate of trees planted by the council and Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead) Fellows is above 90 percent.

“Lilongwe City Council is currently making consultations and negotiations with stakeholders near the Bingu National Stadium where tree planting of 2,000 seedlings is intended to take place,” said Kwanjana when Association of Environment Journalists, Lilongwe City Council and Lead Fellows teamed up to plant trees along the degraded Lingadzi River in January.

Tree cover for future generation

In order to ensure all bare areas are covered with trees, more non-state actors continue to flock the conservation arena. One of such programmes currently under implementation is Tree Cover Malawi (TCM) which is an offshoot of “We Have Faith Campaign” towards climate justice advanced by faith groups. Christian Aid is leading in the implementation of this project.

The three-year project plans to plant 60 million trees throughout the country with individuals, institutions and all interested parties.

In December, Christian Aid and ACT Alliance trekked to Senior Chief Chadza’s area in Lilongwe Msozi South Constituency where in partnership with local people, they managed to plant close to 2,000 trees near Chiwiri Primary School.

“I will call all group village heads and make by-laws. We need the laws so that these trees can be protected. We will put in place these measures under my jurisdiction.” Senior Chief Chadza explained after the tree planting exercise.

ACT Alliance has put in place mechanisms to ensure 80 percent survival rate of the various indigenous and exotic species of trees planted. Some of the interventions to ensure higher survival rate include, among others, monitoring of the project and equipping participating groups with skills and methods of how seedlings should be planted.

TCM also plans to promote national and local advocacy actions to promote environmently friendly policies, regulatory measures for responsible harvesting of trees and actions by authorities to implement policies and regulations in place.

“One of the objectives of ACT Alliance Forum Malawi is to save lives through humanitarian response and working on social ills. Within social ills, one of the things we are focusing on is the impact of climate change. So we want to contribute to the replenishment, protection and conserving of natural resources through planting trees,” says Project Team Leader at Christian Aid Sophie Mzembe Makoloma.

These interventions are timely because Malawi continues to grapple with the negative effect arising from loss of its biodiversity such as the Dzalanyama and Chikangawa forests as a result of unsustainable human practices. ACT Alliance will mobilise resources internally and externally to deliver on the project.

Already, Malawians are bearing the brunt of the absence of tree cover in critical ecosystems that has resulted in water rationing for urban dwellers in Blantyre and Lilongwe for instance. Hydro power has turned problematic; so much that power rationing has been the order of the day in almost all locations countrywide.

Perhaps serving trees would require providing accessible, affordable and alternative sources of fuel to those not connected to the grid. The figure of 89 percent that relies on biomass should switch to renewable energy sources.

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